To today’s scientifically educated minds, omens might seem to be from the same irrational order as black magic, angels and demons, aliens and fairytales. But traditionally, omens are interpreted through rules as strict as the process of using the Periodic Table of Elements or calculating the position of stars in the sky.
For the island6 show “Omen”, the artists of Liu Dao consult the I Ching and use the same key of the “eight trigams” in the 20-piece exhibition of bewitching, majestic interactive works that speak of untamed energy in the spiritual and physical world.
SKY represents strength or creativity
LAKE represents joy or attraction
THUNDER represents initiative or action
FIRE represents attention or awareness
EARTH represents receptivity or docility
MOUNTAIN represents stopping or stillness
WATER represents passion or danger
WIND represents penetrating or following
Despite its age of over three thousand years, the I Ching loudly rings of present day relevance in China with the rest of its title: The Book of Change. Those who witness “Omen” won’t simply stand among cutting edge artworks but in the center of a blindingly modern city that sends a message to the world through the pulsing light of its blinking nightscape: the future is already here, while the rickshaws, junkyards and faltering plumbing systems of yesterday in Shanghai haven’t even had the chance to fade gracefully away. A merger of eras swims maddeningly around China in the year 2011, simultaneously endearing and freakish; "Double Bind" is a portrait of this unchecked collective confusion in the face of frantic change as urbanism runs rampant on the legs of a headless chicken, with the developers’ rationale and spirit of displaced residents represented by an LED man grappling with his own head in all the windows of the featureless block apartment. And laced in the throbbing power of the work is the question of uncertain international commerce. [The simple sale of the United States’ chicken feet to China is a $700 million industry.] It’s not just stock traders and gamblers looking for ways to predict the future of the global economy–everyone with a job and an internet connection speculates on the nature of runaway financial systems and bubble economies in this modern age. A report released in December 2010 by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences declared property in China’s largest cities 30% overpriced. Investors and developers suspicious of a giant crash will tell you, “The signs are everywhere.”
On the theme of commerce and mass production, the pieces "Ding Ding", "Dang Dang" and "Dong Dong" are LED portraits of wind-up tin toys–neglected survivors of a day when China dominated the industry before tin toys became obsolete. These relics are brought into “Omen” for their uncanny existence as automata and resemblance to a magic object, in reference to other forms of magic objects, the pao and the fu, the jewels and talismans handed down through dynasties indicting power and dominance or weakness and looming collapse. “These objects possessed the power of good omens and confirmed the heavenly mandate (ming) which the king had received.” In short, great importance was found in these magic objects: more than mere guidance, they gave specific information detailing the status and future of the nation. It was science.
In tribute to the awe-inspiring storm of Chinese contemporary art swirling through global cultures since 1990, two Liu Dao artworks refer to the trigams of SKY and THUNDER that stand for strength, creativity, initiative, and action. Since Liu Dao’s appearance in “The Big Bang” at White Rabbit Collection in Sydney, among Ai Weiwei, Li Hongbo, Wang Zhiyuan and 30 other Chinese contemporary artists, the island6 collective has been acutely aware of the stimulation their generation of Chinese intellectuals and creators is giving to the world. The husband-and-wife artworks in "Omen", "The Fury of Lei Kung" and "The Wrath of Lei Zi", combine transparent Lambda C-prints with LED representations of fireworks or lightning to speak of the God of Thunder and the Goddess of Lightning respectively, who rule the heavens above. These uncanny multimedia productions portray the relationships between sky and skyline; divine inspiration and grounded initiative; art and the daily lives it benefits through flashing inspiration.
island6 Arts Center's international framework brings influences from all cultures, leading to the regular emergence of Hindu traditions in Liu Dao imagery and concepts. Gaojia and Gaojia Xi feature the profoundly-worshipped serpent of India, transported into an urban landscape and obscured as a highway. With the snaking highways choking a tree and a comely building in either work, the pair of pieces forebode the suffocation of nature, and even sustainable urbanism, by rampant urbanism itself. Yet the sight of a snake ascending through the branches of a tree is a favorable omen of ascension itself, for in Hindu mythology it denotes the rising of an emperor or king. Side by side with a darker omen is a much brighter one: infused with surging LED lights, the artwork speaks of advancement along a destined course to a higher level of living.
Whereas "Prophecies" is a celebration of effervescent hopes and dreams, "Omen" is the sobering antidote pointing to the sureness of trouble ahead, sure as the trouble behind. And coming in the wake of 2010, a year full of psychological exploration at island6, "Omen" lurks in themes of paranoia, mania, apocalyptic feeling, but also optimism.